From: "Robert Borski"
Subject: (urth) Ardis Dahl: American Monster Date: Mon, 6 May 2002 23:34:15 -0500 It is only at the end of "Seven American Nights" that Nadan Jaffarzadeh is finally able to glimpse the totally-revealed body of his lover, Ardis Dahl, and this act in itself requires some trickery--Nadan must ignite an alcoholic drink with his laser pistol, viewing by the blue flames it generates her exposed glory. Far from enjoying the vista, however, Nadan deems Ardis a monster and kills her. But what exactly does he see that prompts this, and is it even valid? Quoting again from Kathryn Locey's NYRSF essay: "Nadan's last perception of Ardis is extremely suspect because he has seen her face and clothed body by daylight, and felt her in the darkness as they made love. What hideous deformity could she possibly have concealed from him?" Indeed. On my first reading of "Seven American Nights" in 1978, I wondered if Ardis might not be a man. She's tall for a woman, and popular accounts from barroom anecdotes to movies like _The Crying Game_ make it seem as if such sexual deception is at least possible, especially in the early stages of a relationship. However, in my readings since, I've abandoned this notion, not only because I believe Nadan would have discovered her concealed manhood before the above climactic moment, but also because of Bobby O' Keene's earlier-tendered remark, "Come and see me when you're ready for something more wholesome." Perhaps he means consentual male-male sex is more wholesome than inadvertent male-tranny sex, but I doubt it. This led me to re-examine Locey's use of the term "hideous deformity." Because in fact Nadan never mentions anything about a literal deformity, although I suppose it's inferable enough given his reaction about how, contaminated by his contact with her, he can now never return "to corrupt the clean wombs of our enduring race" or even touch the miniatures of his heritage should his mission to retrieve them succeed. Plus we have the various deformed Americans Nadan has witnessed in his week abroad: hunchbacks, dwarves, clubfoots, a woman with supernumerary teeth, etc., etc. Still, given all of this, it's hard to imagine anything comparable--at least that would provoke as violent a reaction in Nadan as whatever he sees does. I would therefore like to suggest something else to you. Is it possible that what Nadan actually notices by the ignited arrack is the burn caused by his own laser pistol and that Ardis Dahl is the werebeast he attempts, but fails, to kill on the night of the first egg? Recall, for starters, that when Nadan goes out looking for Ardis's place of residence (for he's already come under her spell at the theater, where she's played Ellen in Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet"--note too how Nadan adjudges her to have a "wild and innocent affinity for the supernatural"), the moon is full and bright. Nadan senses something following him, although he also admits it might just be the effects of the possible hallucinogen-laced egg. Finding the home of Ardis's parents, Nadan knocks on the door, and is greeted by Ardis's shotgun-wielding father. Nadan devises a ruse about being lost and offers the couple a silver rial if they'll accommodate him with a bed and breakfast, but is refused, although Mrs. Dahl appears tempted. Claims Mr. Dahl, "I don't dare let a stranger in. Not with no one here but my wife and myself." But is he really afraid of this benighted Persian, and enough so to spurn a silver rial? Or does he simply wish to protect the disclosure of his daughter's possible werebeast nature should she return? Possibly even the shotgun is meant to protect them from her--although given that he allegedly sells maps to the interior with its fabled hoards of treasure, perhaps he merely hopes to protect himself from thieves or brigands. At any rate Nadan is about to leave (the Dahls having locked their door to him) when he turns and notices a creature on the very top of the Dahl residence. The creature immediately attacks him and Nadan fires his pistol at it. When Nadan comes to--for he's knocked unconscious by the falling creature--he's able to examine the beast, which he believes he's killed. "When I glimpsed it on the roof it had seemed a feral dog, like the one I had shot in the park. When it lay dead before me, I had thought it a human being. In the moonlight I saw it was neither, or both." In the first draft of my NYRSF essay, "Wolves in the Fold," I pronounce the beast a werewolf and will do so now again. But perhaps more saliently the details provided by Nadan to conclude his description of the monster are most curious: "It was a female, with small, flattened breasts still apparent on either side of the burn channel." But how would this story be any different if the werewolf was male? On the surface it wouldn't--unless Wolfe is trying to make the somewhat quixotic distinction that monsters come in both sexes. And notice the specific site and language Wolfe uses to describe the wound: a "burn channel" that runs *between* the breasts. Would such a channel (or its healing scar), nestled where it is, be detectable several days later in the dark by an importunate lover? A female colleague of mine with a zipper scar from heart bypass surgery tells me says it's quite possible, "depending on the nature of the foreplay, and perhaps even then," that such a scar would pass unnoticed. And we don't know how badly the beast is actually wounded or if laser burns cauterize the nerves so there's little post-blast pain. There's also an onomastic link between "burn channel" and Ardis, which derives from the Latin word for burning (ardent)--plus the laser link itself, the weapon revealing the result of its own earlier firing. Nadan, of course, believes he's killed the creature, but when he goes back to see if he can find the body the next day he finds no trace. This may also be part of the romantic embellishment on his account, and though he persists in claiming he's killed the creature right on up until the journal's penultimate paragraph, he also has trouble shaking first impressions, calling the actor Bobby O' Keene Kreton all throughout "Seven American Nights." Moreover, in describing his reaction to the discovery of Ardis's secret, Nadan pens the following: "I now know that the thing I killed before Ardis's father's house is real." But how and why does he know this? What about Ardis leads him to conclude that the thing he "killed" is genuine? Is it the burn channel he finally sees between her breasts--even as he attempts to disassociate himself from bestiality by maintaining he killed the monster he now knows is real? As the hallucinogen in the final egg begins to take its effects (and I do firmly believe that it's the sixth egg that contains the drug), Nadan sees what we might describe as the peri and the djinn: Ardis, small and bright, stepping from the candle flame, and a hairy face coming through the window--but both as dynamically linked as the single particle that may be either a positron or an electron, depending on its direction. And while in Nadan's heart he may prefer the peri version, it's a heart illumed with darkness now, and home to other things. Robert Borski --